Monday, 20 November 2017

Hunting For Hampsthwaite

Hampsthwaite United  4  Kirkby Malzeard  0

Harrogate & District Whitworth Cup

Sometimes you see the name of a football club and your first thought is “where?”

Following the West Yorkshire League’s pre-season growth strategy of ‘attracting’ three teams from the Harrogate & District League, namely Kirk Deighton Rangers, Knaresborough Celtic and indeed Hampsthwaite United, it was the latter one that caused the curiosity.

I knew where Knaresborough was and had a pretty good handle on Kirk Deighton, but Hampsthwaite? Not a clue.

Google Maps is a wonderful thing, unless you make a living out of producing road atlases, so after a little bit of research I’d found a tiny village to the North West of Harrogate, and judging by the amount of green on the satellite view, my gut feel was that this was going to be a pretty scenic area. I mean, when your neighbouring village is called Kettlesing Bottom, what’s not to admire?

It wasn’t going to be the quickest journey in the World, in fact the thought of it rejuvenated memories of the time I went to Oxenhope Recreation and despite it being on the outskirts of Keighley, it felt like I needed to take three changes of clothes, a tent and some Kendal Mint Cake to survive!

St John Fisher Backdrop
The League Handbook hit the website and that was when it threw a slight curveball. St John Fisher Catholic High School 3G, in Harrogate. I will admit my heart sank a little, but at the same time it did throw up a couple of positives, a 3G meant games would be on when others weren’t, and furthermore, I could do it by train and have a little drinkiepoos!

It was all planned for early September, but it was thwarted at the last minute when my mate Mark delivered the crushing blow of the all UK rail pass, gratis. I had a choice, Harrogate on the train for free, or a double at Maidenhead and Slough, also free? Sorry Hampsthwaite, you lost on that occasion, but if you skip back on my blog and search out Golden Ticket (Parts 1 & 2) you’ll see I had a very splendid time with lashings of all things good in the World.

Matters have complicated further over the past couple of months, I began to notice from the clubs Twitter feed that games were being moved to Harrogate Town’s ground, so I had to do a bit of homework by contacting the club. They were very helpful, the two clubs have a close relationship and indeed share the same sponsor, so they have an arrangement whereby if Town are away, they can use the ground if they wish.

It's A Cage - They All Are Nowadays
Town were at home to Boston United today, so the game couldn’t be moved, it was time to head to Harrogate, but by car. You see, I’ve got a week watching football and drinking in Holland and Germany looming, so to have gone out on the lash today would not have done domestic relations any good whatsoever. Mind you, when I get back I’ve got a cheeky little trip to Nottingham on the public transport radar!

I’ve not been to Harrogate for years, I think the last time was when I was reporting for the Derby Telegraph and went to cover a game against Belper Town. I can remember being caught out because at the point where I was supposed to be ringing the teams through to the Green Un copytakers, I was still in the bar finishing my pint, it wasn’t received well at Northcliffe House when I asked for a couple of minutes to down my lager!

It was the same season that Harrogate Town won the UniBond First Division and I got a request from Radio Leeds to cover their game at Belper, and that was an interesting night as it was the game that clinched them promotion. Having to report from the point of view of the opposition was not an easy job, but an experience all the same, I lost count of the number of Leeds United references I managed to get in!

But It's A Nice Cage - In A Lovely Location!
I’d forgotten just how bad the traffic is getting into Harrogate. Technology took me via the edges of Knaresborough, past Celtic’s ground and across the chaotic Wetherby Road, where solace was sought at the Woodlands pub which sat on the junction of Wetherby Road and Hookstone Drive.

St John Fisher School sits on Hookstone Drive which is a long East / West artery on the South side of the town, and if you did want to travel by train then Hornbeam Park is only a few minutes away. I’m not sure how frequent the service is, but I’m pretty sure there’ll be at least one a day to satisfy anyone of that volition.

The school itself is a mixture of the old and the new, but the old part is the most impressive, providing a backdrop to the sports pitches to the rear. I arrived a bit earlier than planned due to some confusion over the kick off time. I’d had a text from the helpful club secretary the night before suggesting it was 2pm, but the away side tweeted that morning to say it was 1.30pm.

It turned out to be 1.30pm, but I spoke to the referee who couldn’t understand why? The game would go straight to penalties anyway so light wouldn’t be an issue, plus, the floodlights were on, so light was never going to be a problem anyway? Anyway, mine is not to question why…..

Even When It's Cloudy - It's Still Nice
The hosts beat lower ranked Kirkby Malzeard 4-0, although the visitors from North of Ripon put up a decent showing. It was the quality of the Hampsthwaite finishing that made all the difference, in front of goal they were pretty clinical, especially when they started to take their manager’s advice and get the ball into wide areas.

Hampsthwaite’s league form has been a little indifferent so far, so it’s hard to judge them, but on the day they were comfortable victors. I understand though that the club are ambitious and want to progress through the leagues, and I’m sure they have a plan as to how they are going to achieve that.

Whether that plan involves staying in Harrogate, or a return to Hampsthwaite, I can’t answer. I do hope it’s a return to their home, the tent will be ready for an airing by next August!  

Struggling For Inspiration Now

Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Very Modern Miracle

Burton Albion  1  Sheffield United  3

English Football League – Championship

In a football sense, what constitutes a miracle?

Leicester City winning the Premier League possibly? Maybe Nottingham Forest winning the Football League and two European Cup’s in consecutive seasons?

Or, perhaps it’s the rise of Wimbledon from non-league to winning the FA Cup, and on the same vein, Wigan Athletic doing exactly the same, albeit over a much longer time span?

In literary terms, one of the great stories was charted in the book ‘The Miracle of Castel di Sangro’ whereby writer Joe McGinnis spent a season following the minnows of Italian football who confounded the odds and made it to Serie B. I guess as well, you could have an argument for TSG Hoffenheim in Germany who have made it to the Champions League, after being nothing more than a village club playing in the fifth tier. However, the Hoffenheim story owes an awful lot to one man’s money.

For me, one of the greatest modern day miracles happened in May 2016 when Burton Albion were promoted to the Championship, the second tier of English football. But to really understand the magnitude of the achievement, it is worth examining the timeline of a club and charting where they came from.

When I first watched the Brewers in the late Seventies, they had just moved from the First Division North of the Southern League, into the Northern Premier League. At that time, that would have been the second tier of non-league football, so in simple terms, it was the sixth level nationally.

Crowds were decent at the old Eton Park, typically in the high hundreds, and for a bigger game, four figures was commonplace. Neil Warnock was manager of the Brewers at the time, and one game that stands out for me was an FA Cup First Round tie against Windsor & Eton that they lost 2-1. The atmosphere that day was incredible. Burton were a renowned cup side as well, with a game against Leicester City in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons due to crowd trouble at the Baseball Ground.

A move back to the Southern League came in 1987, and to be fair, in the fourteen seasons they spent in that competition, two second placed finishes came in the final two seasons, but that was as good as it got for a club that flattered to deceive.

The Home End
By now, Nigel Clough had arrived, and a decision was made to move back to the Northern Premier League for the start of the 2001-02 season. They won the league at a canter, losing just two games, amassing 104 points and scoring 106 goals. Promotion to the Conference had been achieved, a status that had been many years in the waiting for a club that many considered to be a sleeping giant.

It was in the early seasons of the Conference that the club moved to the impressive Pirelli Stadium which was effectively just over the road from the old Eton Park. Combined with that, it was in January 2006 when an event happened which unquestionably shaped what was to be the immediate future of Burton Albion Football Club.

A run to the Third Round of the FA Cup saw Albion draw the might of Manchester United at home. In front of the TV cameras they performed a minor miracle in holding the Red Devils to a 0-0 draw, thus earning a money spinning replay at Old Trafford. Albion lost the replay 5-0 in front of a full house, but it mattered not, financially the goalposts had moved hugely.

The club missed out in the Conference Play Off’s in 2008, but the 2008-09 season was to be a record breaking one. Under Clough’s leadership the Brewers stormed to a huge lead at the top of the table, to the point where some bookmakers paid out with months of the season still to go. Clough left the club and was appointed into the hot seat at Derby County, Roy McFarland was given the task of steering the ship home.

Pyro's Greet The Opening Blades Goal
He very nearly sank the ship! I was at a rammed Pirelli Stadium for the last home against Oxford United where the title could have been sealed, a 1-0 defeat put paid to that, so it went down to the final game at Torquay, results went in the Brewers favour and the nailbiting end to the season was over. Burton Albion were a Football League club.

The club spent six seasons in League Two, twice missing out in Play Off’s, and we were at the Final in 2014 when they narrowly lost 1-0 to Fleetwood Town at Wembley. The Championship finally came at something of a canter in 2014-15, and League One beckoned.

All expectations were exceeded in that inaugural League One season, Manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took them to the summit and a returning Clough pushed them over the promotion line on the last day of the season at Doncaster Rovers. It was now the Championship, games against Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Wolves and Leeds United. This was going to be very different to the Southern League Division One North and away days at the likes of Barry Town and Wellingborough Town.

The club survived their first season in the Championship, finishing twentieth out of twenty four clubs. Both Derby and Forest were beaten at the Pirelli, while I was present on the night the Brewers came away from Pride Park with a point. It was an unthinkable result on an unthinkable occasion, and it was that night that really made me realise just how far this club has come. Oh what it must have been like to have started supporting the Brewers in the Seventies and to be now watching this?

This season has been tough as expected, and with Sheffield United due in town needing a win to return to the top of the league, it was time to witness a Championship game at the Pirelli for the first time.

Eton Park It Is'nt
What I like about a trip to the Pirelli is that the feel of the club is no different now than it was when they were a non-league club. Parking is easy, the local pubs friendly, getting tickets is not a problem as crowds of around 5,000 are well within the capacity of the stadium. The food and drink in the ground is good, the welcome is very hospitable and the fans, while passionate, are no bother at all. I said to my mate Mark (a United fan who couldn’t get a ticket for the away end), that it still felt like I was going to a game in the Conference when I sat in the bar, and I don’t for one minute ever expect that feeling to go away, and I suspect it’s the same for many Brewers fans.

United took the lead through a dodgy Billy Sharp penalty, but Matty Palmer scored a cracking equaliser from distance. Sharp beat the defence to make it 2-1, but then disaster struck when highly influential Blades midfielder Paul Coutts was stretchered off with a broken leg.

This seemed to knock United who weren’t as effective in large periods of the second half, but a third goal did eventually come via Leon Clarke who bundled the ball home.

United were worthy winners, and played with a certain confidence and swagger in the first period. Albion’s problem is scoring goals, they are a tight and well organised outfit but create few chances. Could their time in the Championship be up this season?

I suspect it will be, but I’m pretty sure few tears will be shed, because for most Albion fans, to have had two seasons playing at this level of football, would have been simply unthinkable all of the years ago, and even up until recently.

It is a modern day miracle, brought about by hard work, good judgment, sensible decisions and absolutely World class leadership by Chairman Ben Robinson.

Forget Leicester, Forest, Wimbledon and the likes, this achievement is as good, if not better than any seen before in modern day football. Maybe when normality sets in (whatever that may look like), only then will the footballing World begin to understand the magnitude of what they have been witnessing.

Until then…….  

The Packed Blades End

Friday, 17 November 2017

Old School

Atherstone Town  6  Darlaston Town 1874  1

J W Hunt Cup – Second Round

One of the things that fascinated me when I started to take non-league football seriously was the Warwickshire / Staffordshire ‘Quadrangle’ of clubs that seemed to dominate in Midlands area.

We are talking the late Eighties through to the latter part of the Nineties, and at the time the likes of Tamworth, Nuneaton Borough, Gresley Rovers and Atherstone United were powerful, well supported and successful outfits to varying degrees.

Tamworth for example, I can recall seeing play Wealdstone in an FA Cup 4th Qualifying tie at the Lamb when they were a West Midlands Regional League club, and Wealdstone were a high profile Alliance Premier outfit. Tamworth won with ease, the ground was packed, it was akin to a non-league version of Galatasary, I’d never seen anything like it before as fans fought and barriers were uprooted. Tamworth of course also won the FA Vase in this era. as they catapulted up the leagues.

Gresley Rovers were also a club on the up, packing the crowds in at the Moat Ground, moving from the aforementioned West Midlands League, right through to eventually wining the Southern League and playing in an FA Vase Final. Nuneaton Borough conversely were probably always the big fish, and from a timing perspective they had fallen from grace a little during the period and that was good in a way because they were in amongst it with the others. I recall seeing them away at Tamworth and they bought a huge following with them.

An Atmospheric Sheepy Road
Atherstone United on the other hand were also a successful club, gaining promotion from the West Midlands League in 1987, it was around that time I saw them play Gresley in a League Cup Final at Tamworth’s ground, and my memory is of a cracking game of football and a superb atmosphere.
The Adders went on to gain promotion again two seasons later and they found themselves in the Southern League Premier Division, which over the course of the next few seasons would see the likes of Tamworth, Gresley and Nuneaton enter it, but by now you could also add Burton Albion into the mix, who to be fair had been at this level for a number of years beforehand anyway.

These were heady times for this particular part of the Midlands, derby games between the sides were great affairs, Burton v Gresley and Tamworth v Nuneaton were always the big ones. Atherstone were perhaps not quite as big support wise, but again, they were very much in the thick of it.

They spent over ten years at that level of football, with fourth being their best ever finish, however Gresley, Tamworth and Nuneaton did manage the feat of winning the league at varying points. Interestingly though, Burton were the other club who never won it, but I'm sure that's worrying them right now?

The Sheepy Road Side
They dropped back to the Midland Division of the Southern League before sadly going belly up in the 2003-04 season, only to be re-formed as Atherstone Town, the name they had been known by up until 1979.

Atherstone Town fought their way back up from the First Division of the Midland Combination, all the way back to the level they disappeared from previously, in the lower division of the Southern League, but disaster befell them and they have fallen back again, now competing at Step 6.

So, if we chart the clubs mentioned, what does life look like now? Burton Albion in the Championship, an absolute footballing miracle by anyone’s imagination. Tamworth and Nuneaton compete in the National League North, albeit Nuneaton have gone, come back, yo-yo’d and been fraught with controversy on a seemingly constant basis.

Gresley also went pop, re-formed, started at Step 6 and are now at Step 4, although that status looks precarious, but it is fair to say that they aren’t the club they once were. Support is still good though, and the Moat Ground is still the glorious mish-mash of a ground it always was.

It was an era where we had a boom in the Trent Valley, but things have changed massively, however, 
some things still remain, and in the cases of Gresley, Tamworth and indeed Atherstone, that constant is that they still have the classic old non-league grounds that they used to pack to the rafters in the glory days.

Old School Terracing
Atherstone’s ground is on Sheepy Road, the main road into the centre of the town from the North, and as you approach for an evening game, the lights shine like a beacon as you move from the rural to the urban.

Sheepy Road is old school, a proper non-league ground. It’s ramshackle in places, unkempt in areas, overgrown, needing a lick of paint or three, showing its age and creaking at the seams, but, it’s absolutely wonderful, and I love it!

Parking on the Gypsy Lane side of the ground, an old fashioned turnstile awaits and in you walk to find a plethora of structures sat behind and adjacent to the main ‘Andy Rammell’ stand. The stand starts at the Southern end of the ground as some covered standing, but then morphs into two sections of seats split by the players tunnel that leads to the dressing rooms at the back. Beyond the seats is another smaller section of covered standing that looks to have been added at a later stage.

Behind both goals are terracing areas of three to four steps, covered in moss and leaf litter, with a metal post and railing behind them to block access to the grassy areas that are presumably out of bounds.

Opposite the main stand is another covered terrace with a fence to one side that was clearly used to segregate at big games, while adjacent to this is the club house that has a very Eighties feel about it.

More Terracing With The Clubhouse In The Distance
Around the ground are dotted various buildings, I have no idea what they are used for, probably back in the day they were press areas, club shops, offices etc, whereas now they are probably just used for storage.

Yes, it’s football ground porn, but it’s also evocative of the era when this part of the Country was all conquering, when football was King and lesser mortals wilted in the hostile atmosphere that was created by the crowds packed to the edge of the pitch. This is the Adders Den, the Vipers Pit, a place that the feint hearted Tamworth or Nuneaton fan would go to with trepidation. How many of us would long to have that era again?

Big days for Atherstone Town are few and far between these days, however they did hit the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in 2015 when 21 fans were jailed after serious violence at the high-profile FA Cup tie against Barrow. Examples were clearly made of these people, a total of forty years were handed down.

There were no such problems on the night Darlaston came to town for the JW Hunt Cup tie, in fact, the whole evening was completely unproblematic for Atherstone both on and off the pitch.

The Adders were simply too good for the visitors, Ryan Quinn opened the scoring inside the first five minute before Ky Green added a second with a header. Darlaston then pulled a goal back in bizarre circumstances through a goal that could easily have made ‘what happened next’ on Question of Sport.

Action In Front Of The Andy Rammell Stand
The Adders goalkeeper attempted a clearance but only managed to sky the ball directly up in the air, so this caused him to adjust his position and attempt a second clearance, only this time he did the same again. However, this time the ball descended just in front of the goal on the edge of the six yard box where Scott Broadway was on hand to nod home.

Luke Shorthouse restored the two goal advantage as a rampant home side created chance after chance, and it came as no surprise when Alex Naughton made it four. Naughton then netted a fifth from the penalty spot before debutant Ellis Whitelaw notched a sixth. It was no more than the Adders deserved on the night after completely outclassing a plucky Darlaston outfit who operate a league below in the pyramid structure.

On a chilly evening the crowd filed out of Sheepy Road and made their way back to the homes and public houses of Atherstone. No doubt those of a certain age could recall some of the great games from the past, and that’s kind of the point, history only counts for so much, because the younger breed of supporter won’t remember that, they just know about the now.

The now is probably quite critical for the Adders, paper talk as recently as this week suggests the Sheepy Road ground is under threat from development. That would be a shame, but at the same time, a new ground didn’t do Burton Albion any harm did it?

You Have To Love It

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Jinx

Abbey Hulton United  2  Alsager Town  4

North West Counties League – First Division

I saw one of the best punch up’s I’ve ever seen take place on a football pitch on my only previous visit to the Birches Head Road ground of Abbey Hulton United.

It was March 2011 and United were playing a Staffordshire County Senior League game at home to Alsager Town Reserves. The score was 2-0 to the visitors when the hosts prodded the ball home from a scramble inside the penalty area. Clearly with momentum on their side, Abbey Hulton were keen to retrieve the ball and get it to the centre circle promptly, but as sometimes happens in these cases, it somehow got stuck in the arms of a defender who was seemingly tangled in the back of the net.

Boom! Up it went, punches, kicks, knees to parts of the body that would be easily damaged by a flying knee, the lot! This went on for a considerable period of time and by my estimations, I could count at least six players who could have been dismissed for violent conduct. But as often happens, the officials had absolutely no idea who had done what to whom, and as the battlefield was slowly cleared, body by body, and calm was restored, it was time for the card show!

Two reds were shown, one each, for purposes of evening it out I can only assume. The one for the Alsager player was probably about right as I seem to think he connected with a right uppercut, but the Abbey Hulton player was a more baffling one as I think he’d spent most of the incident on the edge of the box shaking his head in disbelief.

Anyway, we eventually got going again and Alsager came out 4-1 winners, and to be fair, by the final whistle tempers had calmed and all seemed forgotten.

The Very Net Where The Royal Rumble Broke Out
Readers may remember I took in an Abbey Hulton game at the start of the season, the memorable and somewhat controversial encounter at St Helens Town that was abandoned in injury time as Hulton were about to take a penalty, due to the floodlights going out on a timer!

It turns out, following comments made to me by several people, that the result of that game has since been allowed to stand, but I’ve yet to see anything official confirming that.

So, in short, watching Abbey Hulton United has not been dull and not without controversy, what could possibly go wrong tonight? More later….

If someone had said to me a couple of years ago that the next side to make the move from the Staffordshire County Senior League to the North West Counties League would have been Abbey Hulton, with respect, I probably wouldn’t have taken it especially seriously. There were clubs who I thought might have considered it like Leek CSOB, Wolstanton United or maybe Milton United, but AHU were always very much under the radar.

Seated Stand - Tick
The work they have done though is tremendous, and from my last visit, they have fully enclosed the ground and the car park, installed hard standing, put in a seated stand, installed a refreshment area and put up floodlights. I haven’t seen what they’ve done ‘behind the scenes’ in terms of the dressing room etc, but I would imagine work has had to take place in that area as well.

Ultimately, they’ve worked like Trojans and got a ground fit for Step 6, and fair play to them on achieving that, so with a meeting in Liverpool and the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent very much on the way back, it was time to bob in and take a look.

A healthy crowd if 180 assembled to watch what was effectively a local derby against ironically, 
Alsager Town, who’s reserves I’d seen on my last visit when battle commenced. Alsager were sat on the cusp on the play off places, while AHU were around the half way mark in the table after a solid start to their debut season.

Excellent Floodlights
I spent the game in the excellent company of Lee West, someone who I’ve known for several years now and from time to time I do bump into him at games around and about the area. Based in Southam, Lee is an extremely well travelled chap, having been to over 200 grounds in Germany alone. But, more importantly he’s a really great lad, despite being a Forest fan!

The game started, and so did the incidents…..

Dylan Bath gave the hosts a tenth minute lead with a great finish, but then we had a period of uncertainty when one of the linesman pulled up with an injury, did this mean the game would have to be abandoned? However, fifteen minutes later the game was re-started with a member of the crowd running the line.

Within moments of the re-start it was 2-0 thanks to a close range finish from Josh Walker, and at this point Alsager looked on the ropes.

They visitors fought back with a real vengeance though, Tom Brown pulled a goal back and then the same player equalised with a thunderous shot on the angle that rocketed low into the net, with shades of Carlos Alberton against Italy in 1970 (sort of!)

At 2-2, the visitors were now well on top, and with five minutes left until the interval, they took the lead when Josh Glover found the net, it had been an amazing turn around in a half of football that had been anything but dull.

The Grass Bank - Now Out Of Bounds
The second half began with a further replacement linesman (after a slight delay), this time in proper kit, having been summoned from nearby Kidsgrove to replace the very able chap from the crowd who could clearly now go back to his pint and his pie!

Alsager won a penalty that Brown was given the chance to score to complete his hat-trick, but his spot kick ended up somewhere on the road to Leek, however, the fourth and final goal of the game came just after the hour mark when Warren Holmes found the net to make it 4-2.

Disaster was about to befall Holmes though, he went down in serious pain inside his own penalty area and it was clear he was in big trouble. It quite rightly took a considerable amount of time to get him off the pitch safely via a stretcher, and then within minutes an ambulance could be seen turning into the ground. As we left, Holmes was not yet in the ambulance but was still on the stretcher receiving oxygen, he looked in a bad way, and I’m sure all present wish him well in his recovery.

It was getting on for five to ten when the game finally finished, and guess what, a notice was up in the bar stating the lights had to be off by 10pm, but no indication as given as to whether they were on a timer!

So, another memorable game watching Abbey Hulton United, and do you know what, I could forgive them for telling me not to bother in future, it never seems straightforward when I pitch up does it?   

Tea Bar / Burger Bar - You Name It, They Sell It!

Monday, 13 November 2017

Dorothy & The Working Wonders

Working Wonders  0  New Bohemians  1

Sheffield County Senior League – Division Two

Working Wonders Football Club are a remarkable organisation.

They were formed in August 2014 by Stefan Chapman, who had seen two of his Grandparents die through cancer. Stefan was incredibly close to his football loving Grandmother, and when she passed away he was determined to raise funds to help fight the disease.

Vera, Stefan’s Grandmother, was a season ticket holder at Sheffield Wednesday, so he decided to host a charity game at Hillsborough, and it was on the back of this that the idea of Working Wonders came to the fore.

In the clubs first season they raised over three thousand pounds for the charity, surpassing the target they had set themselves, then the following season that figure was increased to over ten thousand pounds. The organisation continues to grow, Charter Standard status was achieved and the club were admitted to the Sheffield County Senior League. The charity efforts continue at a pace, with regular events happening in the local community, it is quite a story. 

The Impressive Dorothy Hyman Stadium
At the start of this season they secured use of the impressive facilities at the Dorothy Hyman Stadium in Cudworth, which is on the East side of Barnsley, a venue that in the past has been used recently by Euroglaze, and going back further in time, by AFC Barnsley when they were in their infancy.

Last season had been a struggle on the pitch for Wonders, but this season has been far more fruitful, and prior to the game they sat third in the table. With the weather set fair, it was time to go and have a look at two sides I’d never encountered before. Visitors New Bohemians have also had a decent start, and thanks to a very informative Twitter account, it’s quite clear to see that they are an expanding club looking to cater for a variety of teams.

The Away End Filling Up
All looked in good order an hour before the scheduled 1.30pm kick off so I had a little wander down to the Pinfold pub, a Samuel Smith’s establishment, serving a choice of Alpine, or the slightly stronger Taddy Lager. As I was in the vehicle I went for the weaker variety, which combined with a packet of dry roasted, set me back a tumultuous £2.40! The prices may be good, but if I’m being brutally honest, it’s good, but it’s not quite Carling!

Barely able to stand up after a pint of 2.8% Alpine, I staggered back to the stadium to take in the facilities. It’s smart, and doubles up as a Sports Centre, run by Barnsley Metropolitan Council. A large stand backs onto the dressing rooms and sports facilities which then lead onto the main road. A good sized car park is off to the left, and to be fair it does get busy with the numbers of people using the complex.

Hot drinks were available from a machine, and on a chilly but sunny day a cup of soup was just what the Doctor ordered after the Alpine had done it’s job. You could get snacks from reception but I was still feeling the effects of the Dry Roasted, so I gave that a swerve.

The pitch was in excellent nick, a credit to the staff at the Dorothy Hyman Stadium, which reminds me, I’d better explain who Dorothy Hyman is.

I Bet Dorothy Has Done A Lap Or Two? 
Dorothy is an iconic sportswoman who originated from the village of Cudworth and still resides locally at the ripe old age of 76. She was a sprinter who competed and won medals at both the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games. In fact, in 1963 she was BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

In 1965 she retired and wrote her autobiography, but because that was something she was paid for, she was subsequently not allowed to return and compete in Amateur Athletics, so she took up coaching before taking a job working in the offices at the National Coal Board.

In 2011 she was inducted into the British Athletics Hall of Fame, and of course had a stadium named after her, which is where we found ourselves today.

It was a tight game, chances were few and far between in the early stages but each side side managed to hit the woodwork. Both sides missed a great chance in the second half, Bohs from a point blank header when it looked impossible to miss the target, whereas the Wonders capitalised on a mix up between the visitors goalkeeper and a defender, but with what seemed an empty net to aim at, indecision saw a Working Wonder get back to clear the goal bound effort.

It Is November, Honest.....
The winning goal came in the 80th minute when Rob Gibson hit a shot from the edge of the box that took a deflection off a home player and squirmed past the goalkeeper. On the balance of play a draw would probably have been a fair outcome, but I guess it was going to take something like a deflected effort to decide the game.

Disappointment for Working Wonders, and while the football for them is clearly taken very seriously, they are about much more than that, which kind of makes you realise that Bill Shankly was so very wrong  in saying what he did all of those years ago.

Stefan, and his Working Wonders, are an inspiration to us all. What they do contributes hugely towards making a difference, making a difference to all of us who at some stage will be impacted by this dreadful illness at some time in our lives.  

At The Going Down Of The Sun, And In The Morning

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Choosing A Pathway Or Following A Scent?

Quorn  2  Long Eaton United  3

Midland Football League – Premier Division

It would have been around the time I was drinking a mug of tomato soup that the news came through of Priti Patel’s ‘resignation’ from the cabinet.

Ms Patel fell on her sword, and no doubt did significant damage to her reputation as a rising star in the Conservative Party, following revelations that she met senior Israeli political figures without the consent of the Foreign Office.  It was a heinous crime bordering on treachery, quite clearly, and one 
I’m frankly amazed she avoided the rope for (a means of punishment she allegedly campaigned to see the return of).

It got me thinking though about the directions our lives go in, because going back to the years 1991 to 1994, Ms Patel and myself were not only at the same University, we were actually part of a group of six students who formed a particular tutorial group.

I don’t recall ever having a great deal of dialogue with her, we were certainly never what would be regarded as friends, but strangely enough, if you asked me to name the other members of the group, I simply couldn’t do it.

And I guess that kind of tells you all you need to know about her, she was clearly a very intelligent and ambitious woman, but what she did was leave an impression, and you always knew when she was in the room with you because her voice was both heard, and her message was one that she could deliver very eloquently. In short, she was a strong presence.

At that time she was maybe thinking about a glittering political career, whereas I was thinking about the next pint and how to get to a game at Eastwood Hanley. Our paths were clearly never going to cross again.

Luke Varney Paid For This - In A Roundabout Way
But then, while finishing the remnants of the soup, I thought about politics and how it can impact upon football, because of course I’m writing a blog and I needed to come up with something relevant! But how could I get from Priti Patel to Quorn Football Club?

Bingo! It hit my like a bolt out of the blue, and it was while I was staring at the clubs badge that the link was made, readers, read on…..

In 1696 the Quorn Hunt was established, and remains to this day one of the most famous hunts in the land. The football club badge depicts this, but in 2004 the landscape for the hunting population changed following the introduction of the Hunting Act. This caused some intense debate in the Houses of Parliament and indeed amongst the Lords (as you might expect!)

It’s a very divisive subject matter, and I’ve got my own thoughts.

I’m not a massive animal lover, so the thought of a fox being hunted and mutilated by a pack of beagles, while a bit tasteless and gruesome, does not particularly horrify me or sicken me to the pit of my stomach. I wouldn’t do it myself, but I wouldn’t go out with a placard to stop others.

What I don’t like is the gentrification of the pastime (I won’t call it a sport), the regalia and the middle / upper class snobbery that seems to sit alongside it.

Foxes Must Not Stray Onto The Artificial Pitch
The village of Quorn is a beautiful location, and very ‘well to do’, so you can almost see why the hunting would be a pastime many of the locals sway towards, given the traditions it has within the village.

Quorn Football Club has been around for a very long time, not quite as long as the hunt, but a long time all the same. For countless years the club has been run by Chairman Stuart Turner and while he has his critics, what he has done is seen both the steady progression of the team, but probably more importantly, they now have some superb facilities at their Farley Way stadium.

When I first went to Quorn in 2002 I saw them beat Shirebrook Town in the FA Vase, and on that particular day one man ran the show, that man was Luke Varney, who pretty soon after the game signed for Crewe Alexandra. When he then moved to Charlton Athletic, the sell on clause that Turner had negotiated meant Quorn got a very significant windfall, and that was invested very wisely.

Farley Way is fantastic, a fully enclosed ground with a large car park, and it’s entered from one corner where to the right is a large covered terrace that runs the width of the pitch.

To the right of the terrace is a seated stand that runs for three quarters of the length of the pitch, while opposite is the smart and modern clubhouse combined with a dressing room complex.

She May Have Been In A Ministerial Car And Met The Israeli Prime Minister, But Has She Been To Quorn?
Over the Summer a 4G pitch was installed which allows the club to further integrate with the community and generate revenue.

On the pitch they did rise to Step 4 and were one of the stronger outfits in the Northern Premier League, but relegation followed and they’ve remained comfortably at Step 5 for some time. I must admit, I’m not sure where the on the field aspirations of the club lie as I’d always had the feeling they were more about facilities and the community, but then what do I know?

It had been a while since I’d been, so I thought it worth a visit, and on a very cold night we were treated to an entertaining spectacle. Quorn took a first half lead but then Long Eaton scored two goals in quick succession past ex Rams and Foxes goalkeeper Russell Hoult to give themselves  a half time lead.

I then saw something I’ve never seen before, the players were set to kick off the second half when Long Eaton’s Nick Hawkins hit the deck signalling that he had cramp, the referee walked straight over to him, issued a yellow card and blew for the game to commence. Hawkins to be fair, did get back to his feet pretty quickly with seemingly no ill effects, so I really don’t know what that was all about?

Long Eaton got a third goal, but Quorn never gave up and after a spell of sustained pressure they netted from close range to make it 3-2, but despite continued late pressure including a header that came back off the bar, it was the visitors who hung on for the three points.

The roads were quiet through Loughborough and back up the M1 into Derby, it gave me time to reflect on another enjoyable evening out.

I suspect my evening was considerably more peaceful and enjoyable than that of Priti Patel, and when it came to reflection, I’m pretty sure she had an awful lot more to think about than I did.

I’m kind of glad I went in search of lager and football after lectures, a lot less hassle in the long run if you ask me…. 

Lots Of Red Seats - But This Is  A Very Blue Area, In More Ways Than One

Tuesday, 7 November 2017


Heanor Town  1  Borrowash Victoria  0

Derbyshire Senior Cup – Second Round

In 1963 5,529 babies were given the name Nigel, in 2016 that figure had dropped to anything between zero and two, according to the Office of National Statistics.

So the name Nigel will at some point in the future become extinct, which is a shame, because in the esteemed history of Derby County Football Club, two of their most recent managers have been called Nigel, Messrs Pearson and Clough.

But, those with knowledge of football in the East Midlands may also be aware that both of these men started their playing careers at Heanor Town, before moving into the professional game.

Where Nigel's Played
Pearson was a centre half for the Lions in the early Eighties, before moving onto Shrewsbury Town, and of course locally he will be remembered for two things. One of which was the time at Derby when he decided enough was enough after owner Mel Morris’s interference became too great, ‘allegedly’ taking matters into his own hands, quite literally. His departure was clearly going to be swift.

He will probably also be remembered along the following lines in years to come when an inquisitive child asks his Father…

“So, tell me how Leicester City managed to win the Premier League all those years ago Dad?”

“Well son, it all started when Nigel Pearson’s lad started to abuse some women in a Thai brothel….”

I’ve never met Nigel Pearson, but I have met Nigel Clough, however firstly, I want to recall a game from May 1984.

Heanor Town were at home to Winterton Rangers and I’d gone with my Dad, we were sat on the cricket field side and watched a 16 year old Clough rip Winterton apart, scoring a hat-trick. One of the goals I can see now, he picked the ball up in the inside left channel, took on a defender on the outside, went past him and then fired a rocket shot low past the goalkeeper.

Lest We Forget
Within a couple of weeks he’d signed a professional contract at Nottingham Forest, and the rest was history.  Nigel’s love for non-league football has never gone away, taking over as Manager at Burton Albion as a 32 year old, he got the club through the Northern Premier League and then the Conference. A bigger job was always going to happen and in maybe what was seen as sentimental move he got the job at Pride Park. In my opinion he did a very good job, the job that was asked of him, keep the club up, reduce the wage bill and get rid of those that don’t want to play for the Rams.

Unfortunately though, he wasn’t deemed the man to take the club forward to the next level according to Mr Morris, he wasn’t sexy enough, so he had to go. Sheffield United beckoned and then a return to the Brewers where he has again performed minor miracles. But, you see him around the locality watching games, at places like Belper, Mickleover and Alfreton, but one game at Belper Town where the Rams Reserves were playing at home to Port Vale stands out.

I found myself sat next to Nigel, and he was quite openly discussing who from the reserve team that night would be making the first team squad the following Saturday, with one of his Assistants, Johnny Metgod. Lee Croft was looking good for a call up, until he did something he shouldn’t have done, right in front of Nigel…

“Crofty, for ***** sake, how many ******* times” screamed Nigel

“Right, he’s out, forget him for Saturday!” he said with a lowered tone

And that was it, Croft never actually made another first team appearance for Derby!

The second time was a bit unusual, I was driving home from work one night when Mrs Hatt called me to inquire how far away I was, she told me that she was in the New Inn and how quickly could I get to them, only they were about to order some food and did I want any?

Looking Towards The Wilmot Street End
Fair enough, with a Hunters Chicken on order I screeched into the car park in Milford, shot up the steps, barged past the hostess who was about to ask me if I had a reservation before bursting into the restaurant.

No sign of Mrs Hatt, just a startled looking family sat on their own having a meal. I immediately spotted Nigel, just about to take a gulp out of a pint of lager, he didn’t look best impressed at my noisy intrusion, I made my apologies and left. She was in the New Inn at Little Eaton…

So that’s the two Nigel’s and Heanor Town, but what of Heanor Town the football club?

A big club, in fact I would go as far as to say they are a sleeping giant. In the Sixties and Seventies they were a major player in the East Midlands, certainly on a par with the likes of Ilkeston, Alfreton and Matlock, but the crunch came in 1986 when they took the gamble of leaving the football pyramid to join the Central Midlands League. It took until 2008 for them to finally get back to Step 6 football, and in that time the likes of Matlock, Alfreton, Ilkeston, Belper, Mickleover Sports, Gresley and Long Eaton were all at least one if not more steps above the level they had only just got into. For many, that was time that had arguably had been wasted. They did win the league in that period, but promotion, for a variety of reasons, never materialised.

Four years later Step 6 became Step 5, and for a period they did look like they could have made the jump to Step 4, but the bottleneck to get to that level is significant, and over the years they’ve had to contend with the likes of Basford, Hereford and Alvechurch, who were always going to be very strong and difficult to finish ahead of.

The Town Ground - Steeped In History
Right now, while still a top six side, I would suggest they are probably not promotion material, which is a shame because the ground remains a very tidy arena, the pitch is excellent, but what they also have is very good support. 490 saw a recent League Cup tie against Ilkeston, whereas 130-150 is the norm. If they were challenging then I would say 250 would be easily the norm if not more.

It’s a club crying out for success, and in my humble opinion Step 4 for should be a shoe in, in fact if Mickleover Sports can sustain a Step 3 side, then I see no reason why Heanor Town can’t.

But as it was, tonight was a Derbyshire Senior Cup tie against Borrowash Victoria, and if we are being honest, it wasn’t the greatest spectacle. A number of familiar faces were on show, and I spent much of the evening with fellow blogger and self-publicist Martin Roberts, who managed to free load a lift back to Ripley!

In terms of the game, Heanor were always the better team, but Borrowach showed some great battling qualities without really threatening to score. Penalties looked inevitable until the very last minute when Elliott Reeves was felled in the box, and the same player got up to despatch the spot kick.

Chesterfield away beckons now for Heanor Town, and that should be a memorable night for the loyal Town Ground faithful, given the way the Spireites are playing, you’d have to fancy them!

Heanor didn’t have any players called Nigel in their side tonight, but then neither did Borrowash, so I guess the stats are right, Nigel’s are a dying breed. That said, maybe on that basis the future managers of our football clubs are probably called Idris, Kyle or Ollie. Herbert Chapman and Bill Shankly are probably turning in their graves as we speak.

The Keith Costello Stand